Saturday, September 29, 2018

"THE Card: Poker, Texas Holdem, Blackjack and Page One" Review

Not every game needs to swing for the fences. There's something to be said for a title that aims small, eschews frills and executes its niche with a vengeance. That's the hand dealt by "THE Card: Poker, Texas Holdem, Blackjack and Page One."

That mouthful of a title is just what the game is -- no more and no less. It's strictly for those looking to kill time while maybe refining their card game skills a bit. The games are as basic as their execution. Sure, you could get the same games via free apps on your phone, but those would likely come attached to a train of microtransaction upsells and ads that dampen your enjoyment.

Everything about "THE Card" is pure and Spartan to the core. You take part in network-wide ranking systems partitioned by each game.

The card games are simple, straightforward and well-executed, with modifications possible including house rules, card design change-ups and backgrounds. The inherent challenge and strategy embedded in each of the card games is the main draw, and you "level up" not by artificial XP but by genuine experience that makes you a savvier and more efficient gambler. With no real money at stake, this is a cheaper and less stressful way to learn the ropes than by braving a real-life or online casino.

An attractive impulse buy to keep in your back pocket to fill out the edges of your Switch library, "THE Card" gives you just what you bargain for, and is worth the proverbial roll of the dice for those looking to do some ramification-free gambling.
Publisher provided review code.

Friday, September 28, 2018

"Life is Strange 2: Episode 1" Review

It's fitting that "Life is Strange 2" is launching the week that Telltale Games went under. As the old guard that reinvigorated the point-and-click adventure genre with "The Wolf Among Us," "The Walking Dead," "Batman" and "Game of Thrones" fades away, the wily innovators at Dontnod Entertainment have reached new heights with "Life is Strange 2." The third episodic series in the franchise proves beyond any doubt that the torch for the genre has been passed.

The first of five planned episodes, "Life is Strange 2" shifts to a different set of characters. Once again, the game is a supernatural forces-tinged tale of awkward, brutal adolescent life. Much of the appeal comes in small moments, such as crashing on a beanbag to sketch out a drawing, flipping on music, and firing up a laptop or pulling out a cell phone to check on your friends. With the vigor and insight of "13 Reasons Why" and "Stranger Things," the "Life is Strange" sequel plants you squarely into the tumult of teenage life, where decisions fluctuate from inconsequential to life-changing minute by minute.

The narrative focuses on two brothers who are left to fend for themselves in a harsh, unforgiving world. David, a high school senior, is the reluctant caretaker of Daniel, who is coming to grips with newfound, barely-controlled psychic powers. The kids wrestle with the typical interchangable insecurities, rivalries and tenderness of siblings, all while sinking into a larger struggle that's more explosive and wide-ranging than either of them can fathom.

The choices you make in actions and in manipulating the dialogue trees have a heavy impact on the way the story unfolds. Likewise, your choices in the original "Life is Strange" -- yet not that of the prequel, subtitled "Before the Storm" impact the setup you face in this game. You can vie to steer Daniel toward the path of righteousness, or nudge him seemingly along the path or short-term gain that could possibly lead to madness or megalomania.

A crackling start to what promises to be yet another chilling, tragic and effortlessly funny and insightful take on teen angst and empowerment, "Life is Strange" proves that despite the fall of Telltale, the adventure genre has not yet plateaued.
Publisher provided review code.

PHIL ON FILM: "Night School"

For my written review, click here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

"Forza Horizon 4" Review

Each release in the "Forza" series somehow pushes the bar for realism and accessibility even higher. "Forza Horizon 4" manages to continue the trend, delivering stunningly realistic visuals that captivate and thrill, feeling at times like an action movie come to life.

The "Horizon" spinoff series has always been the more fun, freewheeling open-world cousin of the mainline franchise. The temptation for developers Playground Games and Turn 10 studios may have been to devolve into something of a "Burnout Paradise"-style arcade romp, they throttle back and lean into the sim aspect. That doesn't mean this new "Horizon" pulls back from fun and frivolity. With nearly everything you do counting toward XP-style clout that lands you sponsors, funding and access to better cars and more varied events, you always feel as though you are inching forward on the progression loop.

Compared to dryer games such as "Gran Turismo Sport," "Forza Horizon 4" is a freewheeling goof. With so many disciplines available to keep things fresh and fascinating, you never feel as though you're playing the same race twice -- even if you take on the same event over and over in an effort to grind to the top. The trick of the game is that it makes all the grinding required feel like messing around. As you refine your skills, upgrade your fleet and seek out the events clamoring for your attention in the British countryside, you lose yourself in the constant forward momentum with which "Forza Horizon 4" enraptures you.

More than 450 cars from a staggeringly diverse 100 manufacturers are there to draw you onward. New modes such as "Horizon Life" boast 25 unique campaigns, testing varied skills such as stunt driving, drifting and sprint racing. The seasonally-divided shared world makes the same courses seem varied depending on whether they are, say, frozen over with ice or drenched with rain. The weather effects merge with impressive damage modifiers that particularly pop when you shift the POV to first person, dealing with the need to peek in between window cracks at the road hazards flying fast and furious at you.

It's been a slow couple of years for Xbox One exclusives, but "Forza Horizon 4" is nearly excellent enough to make up for the dearth of games to pick from. A driver's delight, the game is brilliant enough to convert those who don't care much about car games into true believers.
Publisher provided review code.

Book Report: "Fear: Trump in the White House"

Fear: Trump in the White HouseFear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think this book will become more relevant and valuable as the decades pass and people look back on this surreal period of time to sort out exactly what the hell happened. Woodward's research and sourcing are sure to stand the time better than the likes of Omarosa, James Comey, Stormy Daniels or the other Trump book-of-the-week opportunists.

In the wake of Michael Wolff's "Fire and Fury," though, Woodward's work comes off as milquetoast and meek. Just about everything here has been copiously reported elsewhere. Woodward takes the newspaper-of-record tack of foregoing the attempt to break news while making sure its facts are settled and straight.

Woodward shocks no one by tearing the lid off an obviously chaotic and dysfunctional White House and showing that it's... chaotic and dysfunctional. He offers no more insight as to the haphazard way Trump operates than what anyone can see after watching him jabber on for a few minutes on camera. If anything, Woodward doesn't so much rip Trump apart as he does provide a security blanket by showing how his staff actively works to undermine his crazier impulses to keep some semblance of normalcy in the day-to-day at 1600.

Woodward's more explosive material is at the beginning and end. The bulk of the book could have been written by anyone with a stack of newspaper pieces to summarize. Woodward catalogs the list of Trump's well-reported scandals, padding out what cynically could have been an extended magazine article.

But I'm glad Woodward made this into a book. It will either be something to pass down to future generations in an effort to explain WTF happened during this episode of temporary insanity... or show how the first domino fell in the process that ended up giving us President Ivanka.

View all my reviews

Saturday, September 22, 2018

"MagiCat" Review

It's a bold move for a developer to take on the tried, true and done-to-death genre of the child-friendly, side-scrolling platformer, but Toge Productions didn't back down from the challenge. "MagiCat" is an unapologetically earnest and whimsical take on the genre.

With 63 levels to take on, there is no lack of content in the sprawling game. You navigate difficult jumps, shifting platforms, unfortunately placed enemies and secret pathways to keep maneuvering onward. Your hero kitty not only has the ability to pounce, but can shoot projectiles at the enemies. In between levels, you navigate a top-down overworld first popularized in "Super Mario Bros. 3."

While the controls are tight and hit detection is fair, there isn't much here to push the genre forward. That may be fine for younger gamers who didn't grow up on a steady diet of games like this, but anyone in need of innovation should look elsewhere. At times, "MagiCat" plays like an underbaked minigame in some grander adventure.

Still, there is plenty to appreciate in "MagiCat" for those willing to give it a chance. Its hero has enough charm and personality to star in internet memes and T-shirts, but risks being lost in the morass of obscurity. MagiCat" is bound to be the favorite game of some subsets of kids -- and kids at heart -- whose parents, inner or otherwise, give it a shot.
Publisher provided review code.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

"Cities: Skylines" Switch Review

After releasing three years ago on PC and two years ago on consoles, "Cities: Skylines" is taking a victory lap on the Switch. A deep and robust city builder, the game has rapidly grown its reputation to the point that it's come to define the genre for its generation.

Deep customization options, wild scenarios, authentic simulation variables and an easy-to-navigate menu system are the hallmarks of a game viewed by many as essential to a well-rounded collection. While that distinction may make "Cities: Skylines" sound about as sexy as a reference book or research paper, a few minutes with the game will show you it's anything but dry. It manages to cast its spell, drawing players into its rhythms, emergent conflicts and moments of peaceful synconicity.

Developer Colossal Order's answer to "SimCity" allows players to craft breathtaking cityscapes, manipulate intricate economies and stretch their urban planning skills to the max.

While it's not realistic to hope that the Switch version could match the keyboard and mouse setup in terms of menu efficiency, the touch screen and hot key maps hold their own well, going far beyond what was possible on the PS4 and Xbox One versions.

Numerous other upgrades are present, such as a savvy use of the device's HD rumble feature to guide you toward sweet spots on your map to build. Those who prefer to hunker down in console mode can also use a Pro Controller to plot out their grand designs.

With a full-figured weather system ever present to change things up whenever you get too confident, "Cities: Skylines" cuts an impressive silhouette of towering buildings cut against the horizon.
Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

"Jake Hunter Detective Story: Ghost of the Dusk" Review

With 3DS releases waning, there are fewer reasons to dust off the old portable system. "Jake Hunter Detective Story: Ghost of the Dusk" feels like an elixir that jolts new life into the handheld.

A defiant throwback to the type of game the system became known for over the past decade, "Ghost of the Dusk" is a hard-boiled sleuthing yarn that hearkens back to the likes of "Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective" and "Hotel Dusk: Room 215."

Following the apparently accidental death of a homeless man, gruff gumshoe Jake Hunter teams with an old pal to dive into action, determined to proof that there is more to the incident than at first seems. Navigating dialogue options and menu selections, you strive to unravel the twist-filled web of mysteries linked to the death.

Film noir-style writing blends with comic book style visuals to weave a haunting and entrancing web of mystery and discovery.

Making savvy use of the system's two screens, "Ghost of the Dusk" shows exactly what made the 3DS so versatile and enduring. Even though the fad of glasses-free 3D has long since lost its luster, there remains a staunch appeal to the accompaniment of touch screen navigation with simultaneous story presentation up top.

Like a ghost from the shadowy past, "Ghost of the Dusk" emerges from the ether as a reminder of what once was, and what could be again.
Publisher provided review code.

"LittleBits Avengers Hero Inventor Kit" Review

There's a difference between strapping on some plastic armor and pretending you're iron man and actually simulating the circuitry and mechanics that go into components of an exosuit.

"LittleBits Avengers Hero Inventor Kit" takes the next step toward putting young Tony Starks in training through the paces of cobbling together a superhero suit. Packing beginning and intermediate robotics design and engineering principles, the set works as a training tool for would-be inventors.

As much a hands-on, experiential teaching tool as a toy, the STEM-focused educational package is an empowering and enchanting introduction to circuitry and robotic design. Once you put together a project, you control it via a smartphone app.

Think of the set as a next-level version of angles. Following step-by-step instructions, you snap components together to form circuits that are powered by an included 9V battery. Taking inanimate nodes, connecting them and watching them come to life through your direction is empowering and exciting.

Although designed for kids to be able to decipher and construct themselves, a healthy dose of parental supervision and gentle guidance will keep kids short of IKEA-level frustration. Meant to be built, taken apart, adjusted and experimented with, there are plenty of open-ended applications for the package. A generation inspired by such interactive building could well inspire a generation of Ironmen and women.

Publisher provided review sample.

Monday, September 17, 2018

"Nefarious" Review

As raw concepts go, "Nefarious" is a gem. Playing as a pompous, egotistical villain who romps around action platformer levels to kidnap princesses and dispatch heroes, your goal is to conjure as much mayhem as you can muster.

The execution, though, leaves much to be desired. Playing at times like a rough beta -- with slippery controls, inconsistent hit detection and discomforting difficulty ramps and plateus amid levels, "Nefarious" is as rough around the edges as its ugly protagonist.

Despite the nagging flaws, there is plenty to enjoy in nefarious. If the premise makes you giggle, you'll surely appreciate the sense of power playing as a bad guy grants you.

A catchy soundtrack and charming visual style will give gamers who came of age in the 1990s much to appreciate. It takes considerable reflexes and pattern detection to make your way through the more harrowing parts, and handholding is kept at a minimum. A throwback that mocks conventions of the era while also leaning into them, the game shimmers with nostalgia.

"Nefarious" may not have quite lived up to its potential, but manages to win hearts and mind as an occasionally brilliant diamond in the rough. The ramshackle experience works especially well in short bursts, and manages to grow on you as much as you're willing to let it.
Publisher provided review code.

"Mercenaries Saga Chronicles" Review

If you're looking to pick up a strategy-minded RPG that wears its "Final Fantasy" and "Dragon Quest" influences proudly, you'll be hard-pressed to find more value than what awaits you in "Mercenaries Saga Chronicles."

Packing three lengthy games into a $40 package, the Switch download packs dozens of hours of gameplay into its beefy package. It's easy to lose yourself in the interlocking tales of intrigue, robust lore, staggering amount of upgrades and skillfully balanced combat.

The knocks against the package are its stiff, linear narrative and milquetoast design. The "Mercenaries Saga" games seem so intent on aping their influences that it struggles to establish tones of their own.

If there's any system best suited to enjoy "Mercenary Chronicles," it's the Switch. Just as enjoyable in quick hits on the go as it does in marathon sessions on the couch, the game shines as brightly in portable mode as it does in the traditional console setup.

With few alternatives out there to contend with the series in its chosen genre, "Mercenaries Saga Chronicles" stands out as one of the most appealing options for strategy RPG-minded Switch gamers. If you find yourself hooked, you may not feel the need to play anything else for weeks on end.
Publisher provided review code.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

"Shikhondo: Soul Eater" Review

A bullet hell shooter adorned in the trappings of Asian mythology, "Shikhondo: Soul Eater" adds beauty and resonance to the typical shmup tropes.

As is always the case in the genre, you barely have time to appreciate the visuals and story as you work frantically to stay alive amid a constant assault from the neverending grind.

But don't be surprised if you find yourself occasionally distracted because you are so taken with the window dressing. This is as gorgeous a game of this type as you're ever likely to stumble upon, so it's only right that you appreciate the captivating visuals.

A tight and combustive package, "Soul Eater" packs five stages of increasingly bizarre and difficult barrages of enemies gunning for your head. Close brushes with death are encouraged, with brash, high-risk flying patterns rewarded with additions to the soul gage, which you can build up toward super moves, much like a fighting game.

The challenge to climb your way up the leaderboards always beckons/taunts you to copious replays with the goal of enhancing your skills to reach new heights. Boss rush and local co-op modes join the traditional arcade campaign to keep things fresh.

You can easily lose yourself among the rhythms and hypnotic swirl of sights and sounds, becoming one with the soul of "Shinkohndo," only to happy to have it eat you alive.
Publsiher provided review code.

"Valkyria Chronicles 4" Review

After a mic-drop debut in 2008 on the PlayStation 3, the "Valkyria Chronicles" series had spread itself too thin, losing its focus in watered-down, sporadic spinoffs. "Valkyria Chronicles 4," though, marks a proud return to form.

The tactical strategy enterprise is just as much of a head-turner today as the original was a decade ago. The dev team at Sega has approached and largely achieved the vision set forth by the first game in the saga, marking a watershed achievement. "Valkyria Chronicles 4" matches an enchanting narrative with stylized visuals, a thematically enhanced score and sharp writing to an airtight combat, upgrade and resource management system.

It's the action-infused battles where the game's threads of tension, suspense and execution come to a head. Orchestrating your party's priorities as you systematically take down the opposition is a fascinating and often harrowing rush. This is a game that's dangerous for its ability to captivate you, making time and priorities slip away as you obsess over the next step in your path to glory.

Chapter after chapter, the plot changes the paradigm on you, forcing you to forget what you think you know and channel your creativity and gumption to forge new solutions on the fly, making use of your limited, often unbalanced forces to jury rig a ramshackle way to survive and advance.

To call "Valyria Chronicles 4" a surprise for its excellence would be something of a disservice to its heritage. So if the game doesn't shock you with its overwhelming competence, it certainly at least satisfies while slickly relieving any doubts that may have mounted over the years. "Valkyria Chronicles," like George Costanza, is back, baby.
Publisher provided review code.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Book Report: "A Futile and Stupid Gesture: How Doug Kenney and National Lampoon Changed Comedy Forever"

A Futile and Stupid Gesture: How Doug Kenney and National Lampoon Changed Comedy ForeverA Futile and Stupid Gesture: How Doug Kenney and National Lampoon Changed Comedy Forever by Josh Karp
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was drawn to this by the Netflix movie, which is a much more entertaining rundown of the rise and fall of Doug Kenney and the National Lampoon empire. Karp's book has much more detail and nuance, but gets bogged down in the effort to complete a well-rounded portrait rather than focus on Kenney's foibles and the wackiness that went on off the clock.

Reading like a textbook, albeit an often fascinating textbook stuffed with all sorts of inappropriate, cocaine-fueled 1970s mayhem, the book chronicles the origins of biting political satire that reshaped the whole of the entertainment medium, spawning the likes of "Animal House," "Caddyshack," the "Vacation" series, "Saturday Night Live" and the indomitable John Hughes.

Kenney emerges as a lost soul; a genius incapable of handling the success or especially the perceived failure that the highs and lows of life thrust upon him as he ran roughshod through the print world and Hollywood. The finest moments are those that get intimate with Kenney and his most meaningful relationships, particularly with Chevy Chase.

This is an instance in which you can get all the good stuff by watching the Netflix movie and save the book only to sate the need of fully nerding out.

View all my reviews

Thursday, September 13, 2018

PHIL ON FILM: "A Simple Favor"

For my written review, click here.

"Senran Kagura Reflections" Review

Unless played any way but ironically, "Senran Kagura Reflexions," is almost sure to creep you out. It seems geared to do so.

Shamelessly and outrageously creepy, the game tasks you play as a reflexologist whose job it is to touch, stroke, massage and otherwise fondle a string of bubbly, jiggly and hyperflirtatious clients.

While this is presumably the most outrageous "Senran Kagura" game to date, it's always toed the line between entertainment and exploitative near-pornography as it took on the brawler, watergun fighting and cooking. That the content is leering and exploitative has never been in doubt.

The whole point to the game is to give you the mandate to pleasure your clients to the point of wildly enthiuastic elation with your reflexology skills. You rotate among eager shinobi customers, rotating among hand massage, body rubs and... thigh slaps. The strange dynamic that develops is unnerving enough to shatter whatever illusion exists of professionalism or innocence.

At its core, "Reflexions" is a rhythm game with overtly questionable window dressing. There is challenge, humor and subversive satire at play, redeeming a game that most might turn up their nose at. Determined to focus on the "guilty" portion of the term "guilty pleasure," the game is a thought-provoking, disturbing commentary on sexuality, while at the same time an outlet for those with particular kinks and control fetishes. For better or worse, you make the experience what you bring into it.

Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

"Haunted Neighbors: Hyakki Castle" Review

A real-time dungeon-exploration JRPG, "Haunted Dungeons: Hyakki Castle" is an eclectic entry that revels in its relentless oddity.

Wacky, Lovecraftian characters stalk the catacombs. You scrounge among limited resources to make your way through the passageways, facing increasingly formidable opposition as you advance. Each of the bad guys brings with it a distinct moveset and slate of strengths and weaknesses, and much of the game's attraction comes in ferreting out the most effective way to dispatch them.

Enemies that start off seeming like invulnerable behemoths tend to devolve into weaklings once you figure them out.

Japanese publisher Happinet keeps things fresh by adding a party split-up feature that allows you to go the route of every ill-advised slasher flick protagonist and go separate ways. Those who take advantage of the system can cover more ground, tracking down enemies, loot and hidden passageways to clear dungeons with smooth efficiency.

A punishing yet personality-filled spectacle, "Haunted Neighbors: Hyakki Castle" packs loads of charm into a tight, innovative package. These are walls well worth scaling.
Publisher provided review code.

"Jurassic World Evolution" Review

A theme park builder in the vein of "Sim City" and "Roller Coaster Tycoon," "Jurassic World Evolution" released in June, perhaps in something of a rush in order to drop while "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" was the hottest film in theaters. Critics praised its tight management aspect but chided it for its tedious grinding aspect.

Games of today are an ever-evolving medium, though, and the team at Frontier Developments kept at it, listening to its community as it plotted out a series of regular updates to sharpen the game's claws and amping up its roar. Like the team of genetic editors who conjure the movie's bio-engineered dino-hybrids, the squad has been ruthless in its pursuit of the "wow" factor. The result, with the 1.4 update, is a game that has evolved from its initial release.

Sprucing up what was previously somewhat of a dry sim, the free update adds in a Challenge Mode, in addition to new cameras, contracts and lighting options. The result is a number of small improvements that coalesce together to create something more refined and polished than before. The current game is more action-packed and filled with things to see, do and adjust than the previous release.

While still tuned to the management-minded player -- the console edition still plays much like its mobile version -- "Jurassic World Evolution" will please the type of player who likes to tinker with concepts and see how they play out. It's also for those who like to unleash chaos on an imagined world. Life finds a way, and so does "Jurassic World Evolution."
Publisher provided review code.

Monday, September 10, 2018

"Shadow of the Tomb Raider" Review

Five years ago, developer Crystal Dynamics reinvented one of gaming's icons by scrapping just about everything that came before and reimagining Lara Croft as a younger, more vulnerable and experienced adventurer who got by on her drive, creativity and resourcefulness.

Now three games into the revitalized series, "Shadow of the Tomb Raider" finds Lara as a seasoned explorer, benevolent thief and confident adventurer more akin to her persona in the older games and films. Thanks to the groundwork put in place by the previous two games, this new iteration of Lara seems more grounde, realistic and sympathetic. She now stands alongside Nathan Drake in terms of relevance and precision.

The game tells a stirring tale of Lara meeting her destiny, determined to derail the efforts of the notorious Trinity, while determined to avoid succombing to the temptations of bowing to self-indulgence and wanton destruction that her newly-honed powers make possible. To defeat her enemy, she fears she may risk becoming just as nefarious.

The dev team makes the most of the game's jungle setting, taking cues from the likes of "Far Cry" and "Uncharted" in developing and establishing a sense of place. Utilizing the resources at your disposal, you scrape your way through the enemies and obstacles in your face by culling together minimal resources and dispatching adversaries with stealthy fair. A smattering of quick-time events make for occasional distractions, but don't take away from the momentum.

As strong as the previous two games were, "Shadow of the Tomb Raider" manages to dwarf them wth confident verve and flair.

The tombs are larger, more elaborate and more integral to the story than those of the previous two games. Combat is engrossing and refined. The voice acting and cinematic storytelling are revelatory triumphs.

Much has been said of "Shadow of the Tomb Raider" being the capstone of a trilogy, but the game feels more like a beginning than an end. Lara Croft will continue to reign as the queen of adventurers, and this game is the material on which her thrown is built. All future iterations of the character will draw from this superb trilogy and its resonant finale.

Publisher provided review copy.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

"NBA 2K19" Review

Visual Concepts keeps managing to push the "NBA 2K" franchise to new heights because it never seems content to rest on its past triumphs, always pushing toward the next frontier by hitting the figurative open gym to refine what it does well and reinvent its few flaws.

"NBA 2K19" is the latest example of what such tireless work can yield. It's a sports game that transcends the appeal of the NBA itself, recognizing what it is that makes the league so appealing and synthesizing its essence to craft a fast-paced, 1980s Showtime Lakers-caliber experience.

New this year is a Takeover feature, which replicates that tough-to-define feel when a superstar player ratchets up his play to the next level, becoming a formidable force that draws all attention on the court and in the stands.

Somewhat akin to the "on fire" power up from "NBA Jam," the star metaphorically glows with upgraded attributes, moving with an extra step exemplified in special animations, draining shots with more accuracy, wrestling away rebounds and steals and zinging passes with thunderous crispness. It's all the opposition can do to adjust and weather the storm.

The ever-popular MyCareer mode has struggled in recent years with hit-or-miss narrative campaigns, but this year's "The Way Back" story is an upswing. A well-written and acted tale of redemption, the story keeps you engaged and allows you to skip cut scenes if you want to move things along even quicker.

As a franchise mode, MyLeague Online has long rivaled that of "Madden" for superiority, and ups the ante this year with an imersive, full-featured offseason crammed with unexpected storylines and intrigue that mirrors that of the league in real life. "The Saga Continues" also allows you to play out a storyline campaign.

On the court, the action is barely distinguishable from that of the past couple stellar years. Tighter animations, more realistic ball physics and an amped-up broadcast presentation are the most distinguished upgrades.

Taken as a whole, "NBA 2K19" is a robust, full-featured upgrade that makes a strong case for yet another upgrade for superfans and casual NBA dabblers alike.
Publisher provided review copy.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

"428: Shibuya Scramble" Review

A visual novel blessed with stunning photographic visuals and a dizzzying, twist-filled story to match, "428: Shibuya Scramble" is a wily, text-heavy adventure that keeps you as engrossed as you would be in a binge-worthy TV series or page-turning beach read.

The concept may seem fresh, but it's actually a relic from a decade ago. Originally released in Japan in 2008, the game is a mix of stylized text, still photography at times manipulated by subtle fascination. You follow five protagonists over a period of 10 hours.

Choices you make in one timeline affect the various others, making no two playthroughs the same. As many as 50 different outcomes are possible.

Soaked in the authentic-feeling culture of Tokyo's Shibuya district, you begin to feel as though you are part of the humming community, which serves as the backdrop to the web of intrigue. An engrossing use of gaming to tell an interactive story that wouldn't be possible with any other narrative medium, "428: Shibuya Scramble" is a hard-to-forget experience that sinks its hooks into you and hangs on for one wild ride after another.
Publisher provided review code.

"Little Dragons Cafe" Review

Playing as a twin brother and sister thrust in charge of a cafe set amid a world of dragons and magic, you keep the questing heroes happy by feeding them when visit your place to refuel in between adventures.

From the creative mind of Yasuhiro Wada, who created the "Bokujo Monagatari" series, comes a frantic cafe management sim that keeps up a frantic, engrossing pace.

Like the "Overcooked" games, "Little Dragons Cafe" keeps you busy, putting out fire after fire as you juggle tasks to keep thigns running smoothly while ever teetering on the edge of disaster.

Utilizing the Switch controls to fluid effect, you gather ingredients, fill orders, deal with demanding customers and prepare for the next unexpected twist. The more dexterous and adaptable you are, the more likely you are to thrive.

The ability to play as either gender goes far in helping the game appeal to families, and while the cutesy setup seems geared toward children, there is enough challenge to keep adults interested. Buried beneath the bubbly, whimsical exterior is a well-hones suite of interlocking puzzle mechanics poised to challenge veterans. This dragon packs its share of fire in its belly.
Publisher provided review code.

"Fall of Light: Darkest Edition" Review

An action-focused RPG with stunning visuals and a captivating visual style, "Fall of Light: Darkest Edition" introduces an arresting tale of an aging warrior who embarks on a journey with his light-emitting daughter on an elegiac quest to reach the rumored last place on earth that's still touched by daylight.

Working in a co-op manner with your computer-controlled sidekick has the feel of the "God of War" reboot, with  admirable AI making your companion feel like more of a boost than a burden. Much of the game, though, does take on a nagging, escort-mission feel. If you let her die, your progress ends abruptly.

Combat is slick and innovative, with 20 different battle stances available to help you dodge, parry and counterattack the hordes of enemies that assault you.

An update to a game that was released on PS4, Xbox One and Steam two years ago, the new edition adds an exclusive new dungeon. The updated version is new on Switch, and excels on the platform, taking advantage of mobile play with scaled-down visuals that fit the system well without losing any noticeable framerate or graphical fidelty.

A stronger, more vibrant rendition of a game that turned heads in 2016, "Fall of Light: Darkest Edition" sheds some new light on a promising premise with more exact execution.
Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

"Destiny 2: Forsaken" Review

One of the qualities that makes "Destiny" stand out from the pack of open-world shooters is the lengths Bungie is willing to go to reinvent the game, injecting life into it with a regular stream of sizable free and paid updates, as well as the occasional rainmaker mid-cycle expansion.

"Forsaken," like 2015's "The Taken King" for the original "Destiny," is one of the latter. More of a full-figured sequel than an add-on, the $40 package revamps the very bones of "Destiny 2," adding an overwhelming amount of equipment drops, weapon types, enemy classes and bosses. Along with vast new areas to explore, there is a head-spinning amount of new things to experience in Bungie's finely-crafted universe.

The story kick-starts with a riveting prison break. You confront a Western-inspired area, complete with rolling tumbleweeds, rolling prairies a la "Borderlands" and fortified outposts that house untold treasures to uncover.

Striking intimidating profiles are the new enemy archetype, the Scorn, as well as the big bads -- dubbed Barons -- force you to reevaluate your tactics and restock your firepower options. Luckily, there is plenty to choose from, with new energy slots that let you wield special, energy-enhanced attacks. There are also scads of new weapons with which to arm yourself, including long, medium and short-range bows that provide intriguing alternatives to traditional firearms.

With ample additions to the ever-expanding universe of "Destiny" lore added to the mix, the franchise continues to grow in depth and resonance. Adamantly proving to be a series worth the considerable investment of time and energy it takes to advance to high levels, the game feels like less of a grind than ever before, and more of an onion, with layer upon layer to reveal as you probe its depths.

"Destiny 2: The Forsaken" proves above all that Bungie has kept fan service front and center as it pushes the series' boundaries wider with considerable vigor.
Publisher provided review code.

Monday, September 03, 2018

"Divinity: Original Sin 2 -- Definitive Edition" Review

With the "Divinity: Original Sin" series, Larian Studios has taken the "Diablo" aesthetic, mellowed out the frenetic action in favor of tactical mastery, and created one of the shining lights in gaming innovation in the past half decade.

"Divinity: Original Sin 2 -- Definitive Edition" serves as a victory lap for the developer, which tops off its achievement of the 2017 release with a tricked out, fuller-featured version that includes all previously released DLC, upgrades and tweaks. The improvements lift an already superior game to legendary status, making it a must-play for any fan of isometric strategy games.

Numerous adjustments make the game more palatable on consoles than before, with hot keys and menus geared for easy access via controller HUD wheels. The result is a free-flowing, slickly paced journey into darkness that captivates even as it frustrates, heaping massive challenges on you, filled with twists and psychological mindgames that top those that came before.

As tough to put down as it is to conquer, the game pushes your analytical skills to the limit as you collect and ration resources, plot out upgrade paths and seek out innovative ways to keep surviving and advancing.

New additions include two-player couch co-op, four-player online co-op, a revitalized and redesigned Arena Mode and scores of new surprises lurking around every corner, "Divinity: Original Sin 2" still packs scores of surprises, even for veteran fans. This is the version to check out for console gamers seeking a passion that will last them months on end.
Publisher provided review code.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

"PES 2019" Review

With FIFA World Cup 2018 still fresh in mind, it's time to get started on the new soccer season. "PES 2019" is there to take your newfound soccer enthusiasm in stride, deke a defender and launch a back-of-the-goal screamer that brings the crowd to its feet.

Impeccable controls, stunningly realistic charactetr models, precision onfield tactical reactions and countless authentic chants, crowd reactions and stadium quirks make up components to a robust soccer casserole that manages to be as accessible as it is intricate.

Even having lost the UEFA license to rival FIFA, "PES" still maintains the crown as the go-to game for the most realistic soccer experience.

Konami's dev team has long since wrestled away the crown from EA's "FIFA" as the superior choice for serious fans, the latest entry continues to hold the banner proudly despite several imitative advances from the competition.

Like its cover athlete, Brazilian and Barca attacking midfielder Philippe Coutinho, "PES 2019" favors high risk/high reward style strategy, while subtly punishing those who prefer to park the bus and pray for a counterattack opportunity.

With elegant and lively through balls, conniving first touches and devastating precision in free kick set plays, the game that unfolds on the virtual pitch feels like an elevated, slightly stylized and idealized version of what you see on TV.

With a revamped franchise mode that takes cues from the dry but influential "Football Manager" franchise, the front office becomes as lively a strategic outlet for your soccer passions as the onfield action.

A host of other improvements, including an upgraded multiplayer suite and an exhaustive slate of customization options, makes the game more of a long-term investment than you'd expect out of an annual release. "PES 2019" is built to last, never mind that you'll almost certainly be tempted to trade it in for "PES 2020" a year from now.
Publisher provided review code.